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Bristol F.2 Fighter

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Despite a disastrous start to its career with the Royal Flying Corps the two-seater F.2 Fighter would go on and become a successful fighter-reconnaissance aircraft. Used over the Western Front and for home defence it wouldn't be until 1932 that the Bristol F.2 Fighter was finally retired from service by the RFC's successor the Royal Air Force.

Quick Facts
Bristol F.2 Fighter side profile image
First flight
9th September 1916
Entered service
5th April 1917
Total built

Front view
F.2 Fighter front view photo
Side view
Sorry, no view photo available
Rear view
Sorry, no view photo available

Introduced into service before the outbreak of the First World War (1914 - 1918) the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 was serving with the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 in a reconnaissance role but by now was outdated and vulnerable. So the RFC looked for its successor, the Royal Aircraft Facotry would submit its R.E.8 design whilst Frank Sowter Barnwell, who was the chief designer, came up with the design submitted by the Bristol based British and Colonial Aeroplane Company which was considered a reconnaissance-fighter.

The design by Bristol would undergo a number of changes before the maiden prototype flight. The first design, known as the R2A, was a biplane design and in an effort to improve visibility for the pilot the fuselage was above the lower wing with struts connecting it to the upper wing. This was followed by what would be known as the R2B which was intended to be powered by the 150-hp V8 Hispano-Suiza and had wings of unequal span. With the introduction of the 190-hp Rolls-Royce Falcon I V12 engine another re-design occurred and the wings on this design were both equal span.

Now known as the F.2A, two prototypes of the Royal Flying Corps new aircraft would fly. The first made its maiden flight on the 9th September 1916, although an order for 50 examples had been placed a couple of weeks before on the 28th August. Initial results from the first flights were positive as the F.2A was then sent for official testing between the 16th - 18th October. During the tests two and four bladed propellers were used. In the end the two bladed propeller was chosen. Flying on the 25th October the second prototype, which was known as the Type 14 F.2B, was powered by the engine intended for the production F.2A the 150-hp Hispano-Suiza. However the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 would be allocated this engine.

The production F.2A would have a crew of two consisting of pilot and observer and feature a distinctive lower wing located under the fuselage held by struts whilst both wings had blunt tips. Power would be supplied by the 190-hp Rolls-Royce Falcon I engine giving the aircraft a top speed of 110 mph and an endurance of 3.25 hours. Armament consisted of a sole 0.303-in Vickers gun, which was synchronised, whilst the observer would have flexibly mounted on a Scarff ring a Lewis gun. It would be No. 48 Squadron during December 1916 who received the first aircraft, they would then undergo three months training at RFC Rendcomb before moving to La Bellevue in France on the 8th March 1917.

It wouldn't be until the following month that the F.2 Fighter made its combat debut when on the 5th April 1917 six F.2As of No. 48 Squadron led by William Leefe Robinson came upon five Albatross D.IIIs led by Manfred Von Richthofen of Jasta II. The resulting combat would lead to the 5th April being referred to as Bristol's 'Black Day' as four F.2As were shot down and one damaged heavily with Robinson ending up as a prisoner of war.

Despite the inauspicious start, in part due to poor tactics, to its Royal Flying Corps service an order was placed for another 200 examples, although these would feature a number of changes and would be known as F.2Bs. The modifications to the aircraft would see the visibility forward and downward for the pilot improved with the upper fuselage longerons now sloped and the tailplanes span increased. The Hispano-Suiza would power the first 150 aircraft produced whilst the final 50 would have 220-hp Rolls-Royce Falcon II engines installed and, in an effort to manage the engines temperature, featured radiator shutters. Production of the new variant was hampered due to lack of engines, this would see three different engines used. The 400-hp Liberty, 230-hp Siddeley Puma and the 200-hp Sunbeam Arab, but none of these would be as successful as the Falcon engine. Another change in powerplant saw most F.2Bs powered by the 275-hp Falcon III giving the aircraft a top speed of 125 mph, 15 mph more than the F.2A, although its endurance was less at only 3 hours. Armament consisted of two 0.303-in machine-guns, one was a fixed Vickers gun firing forward whilst the other was a Lewis gun mounted on a Scarff ring in the rear. If required twelve 20lb bombs could be added on underwing racks. The F.2B Fighter was the definitive version of the type with 5,329 built.

It would again be No. 48 Squadron who would take the F.2B into combat in late May 1917, one month after giving the F.2A its combat debut. With new tactics the F.2 started to show its true potential and so impressed were the War Office that it decided that all the fighter-reconnaissance squadrons would have their aircraft replaced with the F.2. This would led to orders for a total of 2,000 aircraft to be built by Bristol with a number subcontracted to other companies including Armstrong Whitworth and Standard Motors.

During its service in the First World War the F.2 would serve over the Western Front, Middle East as well as home defence and by the end of the war 1,583 were in service. Post-war saw production of the aircraft cease in September 1919. This re-started as the F.2 enjoyed a new lease of life as an Army Co-operation aircraft. These new aircraft were designated as Mk IIs as would older F.2s brought up to the new standard. These would be followed in 1926 by 50 Mk IIIs which featured structural revisions. Two years later in 1928 any remaining Mk IIIs became Mk IVs as they underwent more modifications. It wouldn't be until the late 1920s that F.2 production finally stopped.

As well as serving with the Royal Flying Corps, later to be renamed the Royal Air Force, the F.2 Fighter would serve with no fewer than twelve air forces around the world including the Polish Air Force where they would be involved in the Polish-Soviet War (1919 - 1921). They also served with the Royal New Zeland Air Force who used the type until 1935.

With total production of 5,329 aircraft the F.2 Fighter would remain in service with the RAF until 1932.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Endurance Service Ceiling Armament
F.2A 110 mph 3.25 hours one Vickers 0.303-in machine-gun
one Lewis 0.303-in machine-gun
F.2B 125 mph 3 hours 18,000 ft one Vickers 0.303-in machine-gun
one Lewis 0.303-in machine-gun
twelve 20lb bombs
F.2B side profile image


Click on a photo to view a larger version.

See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

F.2B Aerospace Bristol
F.2B Imperial War Museum, Duxford
F.2B Royal Air Force Museum, London
F.2B Shuttleworth

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